While a lot of attention in this corner of the sports world has been focused on Stephen A. Smith, Michelle Beadle, and the controversy surrounding the former’s “provocation” comments on First Take and subsequent suspension, it’s easy to forget about the genesis of this recent news cycle.
That would be the NFL and specifically Commissioner Roger Goodell lightly punishing Ray Rice for his domestic violence scandal and only giving him a 2 game suspension. In the last week, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens have quietly tip-toed out of the spotlight.
However, it’s time to refocus our attention on what has been a shocking display of brutish arrogance, tone deafness, and a total lack of identification with what is happening in the real world from the league and the club. Truly, the Ravens and the NFL have been operating in their own universe since this controversy began. They have done nothing. No, worse than nothing, to honestly address the seriousness of domestic violence and the future prevention of it.
Instead, the league has tried to weakly defend their decision while the outside world rightfully wonders why Goodell, who has long acted as judge, jury, and executioner on these matters, thinks domestic abuse is a lighter crime than taking the wrong prescription. If you can’t even get through Mike & Mike without getting your feet held to the fire, then you are really in a rough predicament.
And the Ravens, instead of being solemn and apologetic about the matter, have engaged in an aggressive PR blitz designed to restore Ray Rice to the public’s good graces.
It has been mind-boggling.
It began with the crazy choice to live-tweet Ray and Janay Rice’s press conference, which included the Ravens promulgating Janay’s responsibility in her getting knocked out by the star running back.
Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 23, 2014
It continued after the 2-game suspension was handed down. It continued when the Ravens website wrote that the suspension was a pleasant surprise for the team in a column titled, “Final Ruling is Best-Case Scenario for Ravens.” It continued with an op-ed from the team’s SVP for Public and Community Relations, unbelievably titled “Why I Like Ray Rice.” It continued when head coach John Harbaugh called Rice “a heck of a guy.”
I’m no public relations expert, but this is not the appropriate time to exalt the virtues of Ray Rice. When you’re under fire for a scandal, you don’t continually throw that scandal in the face of everyone looking on. Do you think any women that are victims of domestic abuse themselves want to hear what a great person Ray Rice is right now? The Ravens couldn’t even wait until the regular season started to begin deifying Rice the football player again. They couldn’t even wait till the preseason. The ink wasn’t even dry on Rice’s suspension before this intensive and baffling PR campaign began.
By being so intent on praising Rice’s character in the immediate aftermath of the suspension, the Baltimore Ravens are sending a very clear message that domestic violence is no big deal. They are affirming the reality that the NFL has a real domestic violence problem. And no amount of pink merchandise being sold by the NFL will fix it.
Read this passage from the Ravens website about Ray Rice receiving a standing ovation at training camp and decide for yourself whether or not the NFL treats domestic violence and abuse towards women seriously:
In his first major appearance Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium as part of an open training camp practice, Rice got a standing ovation from the Ravens fans that have followed him for the past six years.
Rice has been under a lot of national scrutiny, magnified with the announcement of his two-game suspension. His hometown fans showed him a lot of love, however.
The standing-O came as Rice jogged onto the field. He ran to a corner of the stadium and away from the rest of his teammates, and it was clear who fans were cheering for. Rice gave them a smile and salute, as if to thank them.
Rice then showed his usual fun-loving side, challenging a young boy to a race down the Ravens sideline.
Ah yes, that fun-loving side that was on display when he was dragging his fiancee’s unconscious body out of an elevator.
This article, and the entire Ravens public relations effort has been done to make Ray Rice look like some kind of great champion of the human race. The way the Ravens have tried to put Rice on a pedestal ever since the very public and passionate backlash to him began has been one of the most confounding things I’ve ever seen in the sports media world. He knocked out his wife. He’s not Gandhi.
And Rice is not alone in this, even though he’s received 99.9% of the media attention. Panthers DE Greg Hardy has already been found guilty of domestic violence charges and is in the appeals process. But the reason why Rice has singularly captured the nation’s attention is because the evidence was seen on video.
If the Ravens spent one-tenth of the time promoting domestic violence prevention awareness than they have trying to rehabilitate Ray Rice’s public image, a lot of good could be done to make progress. Instead, the Ravens have been singularly focused on turning the man who dragged his fiancee’s unconscious body out of an elevator into a misunderstood hero and implicitly telling the world that domestic abuse is ok as long as you play football well. The ignorance on display has been astonishing.
It’s wrong. It’s misguided. And the way the Ravens and the league as a whole have handled this case is the most embarrassing stain on the NFL shield in many years.